How to Love America

Noah Millman proposes this (while meditating on G. K. Chesterton):

People feel an attachment, and a willingness to fight to protect, their homes, and their communities. That can take noble and ignoble forms — sometimes fighting to defend your community means committing injustice (as, for example, if you band together with your neighbors to prevent someone from a disfavored ethnic group from moving to the neighborhood). But the feeling is rooted in a direct experience, not an abstract attachment.

For any political community larger than a city, though, that attachment necessarily becomes abstract. So you need to teach your children why they should care about that larger community, be proud of it, and treat it as constituent of their identity.

Chesterton famously quipped that the sentiment, “my country, right or wrong” is like the sentiment, “my mother, drunk or sober.” But the thing about the latter is that she is your mother whether she’s drunk or sober — it’s just that your obligations change based on her condition. If she’s drunk, you won’t let her drive — instead, you’ll make sure she gets home safely.

The question, then, is how you teach your children to see their country as, in some sense, like a mother when their relationship is necessarily abstract rather than directly felt. A love of country based on the lie that your mother is never drunk will be too brittle to survive any kind of honest encounter with reality. But it seems to me equally problematic to say that you should love your country because it is on-balance a good one. Does anyone say about their mother that they love them because on-balance they are sober?

While Millman stresses the particular (a people, a place, a way of life — think baseball), Kevin DeYoung goes abstract and is thankful for the “idea” of America:

The United States of America began with the conviction that a nation should be founded upon truth. Not simply values or preferences, but upon truths. Self-evident truths that were true, are true, and will remain true no matter the time, the place, or the culture.

And central among these truths is the belief that all men are created equal. No one possesses more intrinsic worth for being born rich or poor, male or female, artisan or aristocracy. Of course, this truth, as much as any, unmasks our history of hypocrisy, for 3/5 of a person is an eternity from equality. But truth is still true. We all come into the world with the same rights and the same dignity–whether “gated community” in the world’s estimation or “trailer trash.”

These unalienable rights, we must note, are not granted by the Declaration of Independence. Our rights do not depend upon government for their existence. They are not owing to the largesse of the state or the beneficence of any institution. The rights of man are the gifts of God. The Creator endows; the state exists to protect. These unalienable rights can be suppressed or denied. But they cannot be annulled. We possess them–no matter what kings or parliaments say or presidents and congress decree–by virtue of being created in the image of our Creator.

Oh, by the way, if all humans have these rights irrespective of government, then how is that the basis for founding a nation? Didn’t this way of thinking lead in France to Napoleon’s wars to teach Europe liberty good and hard?

The thing is, if you stress ideas you wind up with a creedal nation, one that you tend to treat like a church, with people divided into the camps of orthodox and heretics, saints and pagans. Protestants suffer from this affliction and it shows in the recent anti-liberalism of Peter Leithart and Jake Meador.

Leithart took Matt Tuininga to task for turning Calvin into a liberal. Leithart added an objection to liberalism that fits with the nation-as-idea mentality:

Virtually none of liberalism’s theological critics objects to these forms and procedures as such. Their complaint isn’t against representative government or voting or freedom of speech and association. No one advocates a fusion of Church and state.

Rather, they claim that such a formal, procedural description masks the basic thrust of liberalism. Liberalism’s stated aim is to construct a society without substantive commitments, leaving everyone free to choose whatever his or her or hir own may be. Liberalism’s common good is to protect society from adopting any single vision of the common good. That’s a deviation from classical and traditional Christian politics (including Calvin’s), which sought to orchestrate common life toward a common end—the cultivation of virtue or the glory of God. In fact—and this is the other side of the critique—liberal societies do have substantive commitments. The liberal state pretends to be a referee, but beneath the striped shirt it wears the jersey of the home team. Under the cover of neutrality, liberal order embodies, encourages, and sometimes enforces an anthropology, ecclesiology, and vision of the good society that is often starkly at odds with Christian faith. Tuininga never confronts that line of analysis.

Since the U.S. is a liberal nation, it’s its liberal order becomes its an orthodoxy. But I thought the liberalism of the founders was not to form a society. They already had one — a people, a place, and a way of life. What they wanted was a liberal government, one that would not take sides in religion and other matters. If the U.S began to replace a liberal government with a liberal society, you could blame the centralizing and bureaucratizing effects of a national government that needed to organize the economy, schools, and industry to fight world wars, even cold ones. It really helps when the churches jump on the bandwagon and tell American officials the government is making the nation great.

Jake Meador thinks that the current spate of intolerance that liberals direct toward Christians is a function of liberalism itself:

If the move that western Christians attempt to make in response to all these challenges is to simply rebuild liberalism, then whatever victories we win will be short term. Liberalism is the soil from which the current regime has grown. It’s emphasis on individual autonomy and self-definition and the illegitimacy of unchosen authorities is precisely how we ended up where we are today.

So, two points: First, trying to Make Liberalism Great Again is probably no more realistic than trying to return America to the 1950s. In both cases, the order in question was the unique product of historical circumstances that our own era does not share. Thus any attempt to recreate said order is doomed to fail. Second, we need better language and concepts to make our case to both those within our church communities and those outside the church. Liberalism is not the way forward. It is the way toward further and deeper darkness. If we start thinking about common goods, shared life, and the neighborly arts, then we may be onto something. But all of these things, of course, assume a sort of communitarian sensibility that has always had a hard time reconciling itself to the deeply democratic, egalitarian nature of American Christianity. Therefore, whatever our project ends up being, it figures to be a long-term thing.

Meador should likely include Protestantism as the soil out of which liberal progressivism grew. Protestants were intolerant of Roman Catholics and other outsiders. Remember the threat that parochial schools posed to public ones and the way that American governments insisted no parochial school receive a whiff of public funding (still in the balance in SCOTUS’s recent Trinity Lutheran v. Comer decision). He has a point about “common goods, shared life, and the neighborly arts.” I wish he had included baseball and drip coffee makers. But why these way-of-life matters are at odds with liberalism baffles me.

A truly liberal government, like the one the founders hoped for, was one with a fairly small footprint within the broader American society. Government, in other words, is not society. Communities and people groups have existed within the terms set by the founders for better or worse for the better part of two centuries.

The challenge for the U.S. on this holiday of independence is to figure out how to separate the nation from the government, so that officials do somethings, people and communities do other, and we have a national identity that does not revolve around an idea like liberty and justice for all, and the military campaigns that justify such abstract convictions.

To paraphrase Meador, Americanism or the liberal international order that the U.S. has maintained in its capacity as leader of the free world is not the way forward, at least for building attachments to the nation. We still need less national government, more attachments to people, places, and the ways of life that emerge from them.

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With Friends Like These

Matt Tuininga qualifies and then insinuates:

we cannot simply take Calvin’s thought and apply it to our own time without substantial reflection. Calvin assumed the existence of Christendom. We inhabit a pluralistic society increasingly devoted to secular liberalism. There are self-proclaimed two kingdoms advocates today who would claim the two kingdoms distinction calls us to keep religion and politics entirely separate, as if they are hermetically sealed realms that have nothing to do with each other. Yet such is clearly a distortion of Calvin’s thought, which is decisively rooted in the New Testament’s rich distinction between the present age and the age to come.

Does he have Machen in mind?

In the second place, you cannot expect from a true Christian church any official pronouncements upon the political or social questions of the day, and you cannot expect cooperation with the state in anything involving the use of force. Important are the functions of the police, and members of the church, either individually or in such special associations as they may choose to form, should aid the police in every lawful way in the exercise of those functions. But the function of the church in its corporate capacity is of an entirely different kind. Its weapons against evil are spiritual, not carnal; and by becoming a political lobby, through the advocacy of political measures whether good or bad, the church is turning aside from its proper mission. . . .

To advance the conversation, why not comment on whether the deaconate should do medicine as Calvin recommended:

The fourth order of ecclesiastical government, namely, the deacons

There have always been two kinds of these in the early Church. One has to receive, distribute and care for the goods of the poor (i.e. daily alms as well as possessions, rents and pensions); the other has to tend and look after the sick and administer the allowances to the poor as is customary. [In order to avoid confusion], since we have officials and hospital staff, [one of the four officials of the said hospital should be responsible for the whole of its property and revenues and he should have an adequate salary in order to do his work properly.]

Concerning the hospital

Care should be taken to see that the general hospital is properly maintained. This applies to the sick, to old people no longer able to work, to widows, orphans, children and other poor people. These are to be kept apart and separate from others and to form their own community.

Care for the poor who are scattered throughout the city shall be the responsibility of the officials. In addition to the hospital for those visiting the city, which is to be kept up, separate arrangements are to be made for those who need special treatment. To this end a room must be set apart to act as a reception room for those that are sent there by the officials..

Further, both for the poor people in the hospital and for those in the city who have no means, there must be a good physician and surgeon provided at the city’s expense…

As for the plague hospital, it must be kept entirely separate.

Instead of looking at the theory (theology), why not look at the circumstances and sciences that have differentiated a host of life’s affairs so that the church and religion is one among many spheres of life? But Lordship of Christ folks think, like Gregory VII during the Investiture Controversy, that the direct pipeline of Christianity to God trumps most spheres so that Christians have authority in medicine, biology, history, and dog-catching by virtue of — what? — faith.

2kers want answers. Simply repeating inspiring calls to engage the world doesn’t give them.

It’s Only Politics

Matt Tuininga echoes the idea that politics is evidence of sanctification (integration of faith and life and all of that):

Will Republican evangelicals who see their sisters and brothers – their political opponents – wounded and beaten on the other side of the road and cross over to take up their need as their own, in the spirit of the good Samaritan? Will they stand with them in solidarity, pleading their cause as if it were their own? Will Democratic evangelicals who feel beaten and betrayed accept such an effort at reconciliation and love in a spirit of gospel hope? Will they stand in solidarity with their evangelical opponents, pleading their cause as if it were their own? Do we have the humility to recognize that our own political judgments might not reflect the whole picture, that they might even be wrong?

Bill Smith in his curmudeonly way says, no thanks:

Blacks and other minorities have experienced abuse. Blacks in particular can identify with Israel, an enslaved and abused minority in Egypt. Unfortunately white evangelical Christians have themselves been the abusers of African Americans or failed to speak up against their abuse. White evangelicals have aligned themselves with the Republican Party which has not been sympathetic with the concerns of minorities but rather has become a home of racists and nationalists. Lately, however, there has been progress as black and white Christians have worked toward racial reconciliation. But this election has exposed the reality that white evangelicals have not come so far as black evangelicals hoped. The black minority feel they have been betrayed by white evangelicals who voted for Trump.

. . . The perspective of these brothers is the same as that of Falwell, Kennedy, Criswell, and the Moral Majority. They were on God’s side, and God was on their side. Their champion was Ronald Reagan. The election of Reagan moved forward the cause of Christ and his kingdom.

These brothers believe that God is on their side and they on God’s. Their cause(s) is the cause of the kingdom of God. To them Trump was not just someone they disagreed with but the enemy of the kingdom of God. The 80% of white evangelicals who voted for Trump voted against the interests of the kingdom of God, betrayed their black brothers and sisters (who ask, “How could you?”), and proved themselves unreliable allies in the righteous causes highest on the list of black priorities.

All this was hogwash in the days of Falwell, and it’s all hogwash today. This is not about Christian theology or practice. It’s politics. That’s all it is. Just politics. The joy that the Moral Majority felt when Reagan triumphed was not righteous joy but political joy. The grief felt by these black brothers is not righteous grief but political grief. The reason most white evangelicals voted for Trump is that most white evangelicals are conservatives and Republicans. The reason these black evangelical brothers feel betrayed is because they are liberals and Democrats.

If only we could treat politics like plumbing. But no. Politics has to be a high and holy calling. What we are seeing is the result of all that every-square inch argument. And it’s not helpful for the nation or — get this — for the church. But it does allow evangelical academics to feel pious.

Is Universal Suffrage One of the Benefits that Accompany or Flow from Justification, Adoption, and Sanctification?

Matt Tuininga is back to remind us of how far short the contemporary advocates of the spirituality of the church (SpofCh) fall. In this case, the proponents of 2k and SpofCh are in solidarity with the southern Presbyterian opponents of integration who formed the PCA. That’s sort of like the students at Princeton who liken the university’s faculty to the KKK on the spectrum of institutional racism. Here’s the key Tuininga challeng:

Until advocates of the doctrine of the spirituality of the church (not to mention advocates of two kingdoms theology) come to grips with the social implications of the spiritual gospel they will not be able to make the necessary distinction between inappropriate meddling in civil and political affairs (which they rightly criticize) and the church’s responsibility to proclaim the full scope of the gospel, with all of its social implications (which duty they avoid). Until we understand how the spirituality doctrine not only permits the use of church discipline and the diaconate to promote the justice and righteousness of the kingdom, but requires it, we have not grasped just what it is that spirituality means. To politicize the church is surely a horribly misguided attempt to manipulate the Spirit for our own purposes, but to muzzle the Spirit or partition the social dimension of human life from the gospel is hardly less a display of rebellion.

So the question for Tuininga is whether social advances like the civil rights movement or integration are parts of the coming of the kingdom of Christ. For instance, one of the great achievements of Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights advocates was the Voters Rights Act which prohibited local and state policies that prevented African-Americans from exercising their right to vote.

That was not the only time that suffrage included more Americans. The Puritans restricted suffrage to members of congregations, and only when Massachusetts Bay became more secular (less controlled by Christian norms) did the franchise extend to residents who were not church members. Even then, property holdings were necessary to qualify for the vote.

More recently, the nineteenth Amendment prohibited restrictions on voting based on sex.

The question for Tuininga is whether the churches should have endorsed these enlargements of the franchise? If so, why does he not complain about the Puritans who were comfortable with restricting suffrage, or the mainline churches who for so long said nary a word about women not having the right to vote?

Or could it be that most policies and laws are not benefits of the gospel the way that assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace and perseverance of the saints accompany and flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification? Is it also the case that if you can tell the difference between voting in a democracy and peace of conscience, you actually know what the spirituality of the church is?

So I throw the challenge back to Tuininga: until he can show that certain social reforms are evidence of the gospel, he needs to come down from his high horse about the deficiencies of the spirituality of the church and its proponents. I, for one, would love to believe that prison reform and abandonment of the War on Drugs as federal policy are part of “the transforming impact of the gospel.” But I have a hard time understanding how policies reformed and prisoners freed are signs of the coming of the kingdom when the people reforming the policies and the ex-cons don’t confess Jesus Christ as Lord.

Collective Guilt

At first I thought I was clear because I’m not Tim Bayly, Tim Keller, or PCA:

Bayly Blog has published a piece by Lucas Weeks, an assistant pastor at Clearnote Church, in which he argues that the root of abortion is feminism. He contends that the PCA soft-peddles feminism; thus the PCA is complicit in the acceptance of and practice of abortion. The PCA needs to repent:

We must never forget that the blood sacrifice for feminism is abortion, and if we really desire to live in a nation free from the bloody slaughter of abortion, we must repent of our feminism. Regardless of the brand of feminism we’re talking about, the vampire that has been feeding on the blood of our children for decades was unleashed by our sexual sin and our rebellion against the very simple and easy to understand words of Scripture regarding manhood and womanhood. Whether it’s the hard-core leftist feminism of Camille Paglia and Sallie Tisdale, or the soft-peddled feminism that’s increasingly common in the PCA, or even the Sarah Palin style of feminism within the GOP, the rejection of God’s clear Word is the same.

In the discussion that followed among those who have not offended the patriarchs of patriarchy to the point of being banned one brother questioned Weeks’ words about the PCA. This provoked Fr. Tim himself to write even stronger words, taking aim at one of his favorite targets, Tim Keller:

To say that conservative Reformed denominations like the PCA are responsible for the continuation of abortion in our country is an unassailable truth, as I see it. The most influential pastor of the PCA brags about not preaching against abortion and claims this is an effective tool in opposing abortion. But of course, every pastor knows why we avoid preaching against abortion, and it’s not because we believe it’s an effective technique in stopping abortion.

So that pastor and all the many pastors who mimic him in his conflict avoidance are responsible for little babies being killed in their congregations who would have lived had their pastors warned their mothers and fathers (and grandmothers and grandfathers) not to murder their unborn. As Pastor Weeks wrote, this is the fruit of feminism. Preaching against abortion is seen as anti-women’s-rights and male pastors will do almost anything to avoid any accusation that we’re anti-women’s-rights.

Then I was feeling pretty good that it’s okay that I’m not nice (which Mrs. Hart has long known but the cats, Kibbles prostitutes that they are, don’t):

In Galatians 5, Paul contrasts the qualities of fleshly, worldly people with the qualities of Spirit-filled, godly people. He lists the fruit of the Spirit, those character traits that ought to mark God’s people, saying, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (vv. 22–23). Conspicuously absent from Paul’s list is niceness. Kindness is there; patience and gentleness too. But not niceness.

But then I had a wake-up call. Even though I am a Canadian trapped in an American body, I am still an American and have bigger problems:

Today is the seventieth anniversary of Hiroshima. On this day, seventy years ago, the United States used an atomic bomb in warfare for the first time in history. Another would follow, dropped on Nagasaki three days later. It is no exaggeration to say that since that time the world has been fixated on making sure that no nuclear weapon is ever used again. At this very time the American Congress debates whether or not to support President Obama’s recent agreement with Iran, designed to prevent Iran from attaining the capability the United States already used against Japan a lifetime ago.

The single bomb used on this day, August 6, was not used against a military target. It was dropped on an urban area, a major population center with hundreds of thousands of civilians, including the elderly, women, and children. Some 85,000 people were killed either instantly or within the first day. Many, many more died in the days and months following. Within four months the death toll reached as high as 165,000, the vast majority of whom were civilians. For the survivors, that was just the beginning of the ordeal. . . .

In fact, both arguments – that the United States was justified in using the atomic bomb against Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, and that the United States is justified in bombing Iran should it develop nuclear weapons today – are flatly contradictory to classic Christian just war theory. This is hard for patriotic American Christians to admit, but it is no less clear for that.

Matt Tuininga’s point — if he is correct about just war and the bomb — that sin is deep and profound is a good one, though I’m not sure why he thinks a social gospel will remedy the social aspects of sin. We live on this side of racism, segregation, slavery, and Hiroshima. A society or group cannot go back to a point of prior innocence. History does not work that way. Maybe we simply have to live in a perpetual state of knowing we are guilty and our only hope is a glorified existence. (Imagine what that sense would to outrage porn.)

But the earlier thought that I was without sin, and the later recognition of my guilt, did make me wonder about the propriety of such public calls for repentance. If we have no possible way of making restoration, then what good is the call for repentance other than saying something about the caller? Isn’t the caller as guilty as I am? So why is he throwing the first stone?

Politics of Inclusion

Matt Tuininga calls for the gospel politics of inclusion even while excluding some — ahem — from the Reformed camp. But let’s not go there.

Let’s go instead to an apparent confusion of categories that invariably happens when you make the gospel (Jesus Christ died for sinners, there’s not one square inch, man’s chief end is to glorify God — which is it?) the basis for society. (And if the gospel is the basis for society, where are non-Christians supposed to go? Theonomy with a smile and a hug is still a state that makes little room for non-Christians.)

A few excerpts:

Embracing the call to be conformed to the image of Christ means not that we parade around trumpeting the lordship of Christ, but that, like Christ, we take up the form of a servant, humbling ourselves if necessary even to the cross. Thus we fulfill the law not by enforcing its every jot and tittle at the point of the sword, excluding from the political community those who refuse to tow the cultural, moral or religious line, but by loving and serving those with whom God has placed us in community, paying particular attention to the needs of the poor and the weak, the marginalized and the oppressed.

So what does this say about immigration policy and undocumented aliens? Is the gospel thing to do, the inclusive policy, to include immigrants? Or might a recognition of national sovereignty, strains on certain communities, the good of the economy, cause politicians to take factors other than the gospel into account?

Another excerpt:

It is true that the Gospel does not immediately erase all distinctions of nation, gender, or economic status, but it is equally true that the unity of all things in Christ does call for the rejection of their unjust abuses. It is true that we must be realistic about what can be achieved through politics, but our realism should lead us to champion the weak rather than the strong who oppress them under the cover of law. It is true that we may not be silent about what God’s Word teaches, even when it comes to such controversial matters as human sexuality, but it is equally true that our judgment regarding how God’s will should take expression in politics is fallible, that we must learn to love, serve and work with fellow citizens who disagree with us, and that our public rhetoric is only Christian if it is infused with the grace of Christ. Finally, it is true that salvation only comes to those who place their faith in Christ, and about that we must always be clear, but it is equally true that as believers we are called to embody that salvation socially by bearing one another’s burdens, forgiving one another’s transgressions, and caring for one another’s needs.

Unjust abuses? Did Christ reject the cross, which was unjust? Did he tell Christians to turn the other cheek? Does that mean an end to capital punishment? But what about prisons? Don’t they receive persons we “exclude” from civil society?

Learn to work with fellow citizens with whom we disagree? Is bi-partisanship really a gospel imperative when practically every oped writer for the Times and the Post promotes crossing the aisle in Congress? Do we need to gussy up bi-partisanship with the gospel? Is that why Christ died?

Bearing one another’s burdens? So a Christian politician should have banks forgive all debts?

One more except from another piece on “gospel” politics:

. . . the gospel should affect social structures of nation, race, gender and class. It should call us to organize these structures, as much as possible given the constraints of the present evil age, in light of what the gospel teaches us about human dignity, about justice, and about love. That requires wrestling with the nature of each type of human relationship that involves some sort of inequality or hierarchy. . . .

There are several types of social relationships. Some of them, such as marriage and the relationship between parents and their children, are grounded in creation and ought to be protected and promoted by human beings. The key questions here revolve around how to preserve these relationships in ways that acknowledge the fundamental spiritual and moral equality between men and women, between adults and children. Obviously parents must be in authority over their children, but that doesn’t mean they should be allowed to treat their children like slaves or property. Men and women will typically perform different gender roles by virtue of their different embodied nature, but that doesn’t mean men should domineer over women.

There are other types of relationships that are not rooted in creation but that have emerged, at least in the form that we know them, due to the fall into sin. They are not evil, but their very form demonstrates that evil does exist in the world. Here I am thinking about the coercive state. Christians should support this sort of hierarchy because it is absolutely necessary for a modicum of order in this life, let alone for human flourishing. But questions remain. How do we set up political authority such that it is not tyrannically abused? How do we ensure that those who rule are held accountable to those who are ruled? How do we ensure that even where there is political inequality, all recognize a more fundamental level of moral and spiritual equality?

I’m not sure that Calvin or any of the Reformers were fans of equality. Again, a Reformed source like the Larger Catechism (but maybe the Dutch don’t consider the British Reformed) makes quite a lot of hierarchy and inequality in social stations:

Q. 127. What is the honor that inferiors owe to their superiors?
A. The honor which inferiors owe to their superiors is, all due reverence in heart, word, and behavior; prayer and thanksgiving for them; imitation of their virtues and graces; willing obedience to their lawful commands and counsels; due submission to their corrections; fidelity to, defense, and maintenance of their persons and authority, according to their several ranks, and the nature of their places; bearing with their infirmities, and covering them in love, that so they may be an honor to them and to their government.

Q. 128. What are the sins of inferiors against their superiors?
A. The sins of inferiors against their superiors are, all neglect of the duties required toward them; envying at, contempt of, and rebellion against their persons and places, in their lawful counsels, commands, and corrections; cursing, mocking, and all such refractory and scandalous carriage, as proves a shame and dishonor to them and their government.

In fact, I wonder if Matt knows how much his logic about the future reality of the new heavens and new earth breaking in to present social arrangements was one of the most used theological rationales for ordaining women in the CRC. That’s not a scare tactic. It’s only an instance of where an egalitarian stance can lead, especially one that doesn’t recognize differences among church, society, and family (sphere sovereignty anyone).

But when the gospel becomes the modifier, out goes all the differentiation that makes modern society run (and makes it secular). Matt asks, “How do we set up political authority such that it is not tyrannically abused?” Studying the framers of the U.S. Constitution might be a better place to start than the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Still not sure what gospel Matt is proclaiming in his social gospel mode.

Postscript: apologies for the image to those with weaker consciences, but sometimes it’s good to be remembered of what happens to women in combat — their dresses fall off.

Piling On

So thanks to Matt Tuininga’s critique of Scott Clark and mmmmmeeeEEEEEE, Stephen Wolfe adds to Clark’s and my misery:

I think that Matthew Tuininga has made a valuable correction to D.G. Hart and R. Scott Clark who seem to find no social value in Christian sanctification. Would not our conformity to the image of the Last Adam have social implications? Of course, it would. The fundamental problem with the Hart-Clark 2k theology is their failure to recognize that the Gospel, which includes sanctification, restores the Adamic dominian. As J Peter Escalante and Steven Wedgeworth have made abundantly clear, “man’s Adamic dominion has been in principle restored in Christ.” This means, so it seems to me, that sanctification includes a conformity to the original Edenic order and a restoration toward the original mandate to bring, through human creativity and work, creation to its potential maturity. This has nothing to do with immanentizing the eschaton, as Eric Voegelin warned against. It means rather that the Gospel empowers Christians to work toward the realization of a mature natural order.

But just when Mike Horton and Dave VanDrunen thought they were on comfortable chairs in the bus terminal (oxymoron alert), a quick google search reveals that they are just as bad — maybe worse:

VanDrunen contends that the cultural mandate was given as a condition through which Adam would inherit eternal life for himself and his offspring. This activity of Adam was temporal, only given by God in preparation for the Sabbath rest in which he would partake through his obedience. He purports that because Christ is the last Adam, such a cultural mandate is no longer a necessity for those who are in Christ. He argues: “To understand our own cultural work as picking up and finishing Adam’s original task is, however unwittingly, to compromise the sufficiency of Christ’s work” (Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 50). To be clear, VanDrunen emphasizes the importance of the Christian’s vocation in the secular realm, but views it as only temporary, and he disconnects it from the mandate given to Adam.

What VanDrunen fails to recognize is that God created humankind to live within two particular sets of relationships: to God, and to creation. In his approach, for Adam, the cultural mandate has coram deo implications. Adam’s standing before God prior to the fall was not based on grace and faith, but instead upon his obedience in fulfilling the God-given mandate. This is, of course, based upon VanDrunen’s commitment to the Reformed concept of the covenant of works in the Garden of Eden (an idea that I have critiqued here). The problem is that the text of Genesis never makes such a connection. Nowhere in the creation account is Adam told that his standing before God could somehow be merited by obedience to this mandate. Rather, Adam’s creation was an act of grace. His relationship to God was always based on God’s action and his reception. Sure, he could lose his righteous standing before God, but he couldn’t gain it by merit.

The implications of this difference of perspective are important. If Adam’s relationship before God has always been by grace, and man’s relationship to creation has always been determined by the mandate of Genesis 1:28, then the cultural mandate is no longer simply part of the Adamic administration, but is essential to who the human creature is.

So I wonder how widely Matt has read VanDrunen and Horton. The more people under the bus, the more misery.

With Friends Like These

This caught my eye (from under the bus). Matt Tuininga calls me a friend and I guess that’s supposed to weaken the sting of what’s included:

But Scott Clark’s version and Darryl Hart’s version is not the Reformed version. And it is not just their conclusions about religion in the public square that are different. These are fundamentally different political theologies.

Yes, Calvin argued, and rightly so, that the church should only proclaim what the Word teaches. The church should stay out of public policy debates. Yes, Calvin argued, and rightly so, that the kingdom of Christ is spiritual. It cannot be conflated with the moral transformation of secular society. But Calvin also affirmed that the Word teaches much about society and that the church must proclaim these teachings. And when he said that the kingdom of Christ is spiritual he meant essentially that the kingdom of Christ is eschatological, not that it has no implications for material social life (as I show here). Remember, we are talking about the theologian who recovered and reestablished the diaconate as a spiritual, materially oriented office (again, as I show here). I have written much about this and will not rehash it all here.

Scott and Darryl are both friends to me, and I am grateful for all they have done for me over the years. But their thinking on these points is not clear and it is not helpful. It is hardly likely to persuade anyone tempted to embrace the Social Gospel, given that it merely presents an individualistic and virtually neo-Platonized gospel as the alternative.

On the way to this characterization, Matt waves at the Bible but does little more when he writes:

Appealing to J. Gresham Machen’s doctrine of the spirituality of the church, which he identifies with John Calvin’s two kingdoms doctrine, Clark argues that “social concerns” are outside of the scope of the gospel. Thus Machen, in his official capacity as a gospel minister, “refrained from speaking to social concerns because of the teaching of the New Testament. Read on its own terms, the teaching of the New Testament about the Kingdom of God is remarkably silent about the pressing social concerns of the day.”

Does Clark forget how much the New Testament has to say about justice for the widow and the orphan, good news for the poor, the oppression of the weak, marriage, slavery, the breakdown of social barriers (between Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female, Barbarian, Scythian), violence, reconciliation, sharing with those in need, the diaconate, obedience to civil authority, families, peacemaking, or any other number of vices and virtues that pertain to relationships between human beings. What version of the New Testament is he reading? In what world are these not pressing social concerns?

Paul actually put tight limits on the aid widows could receive. The poor included the Centurion who had servants (who were sort of like slaves). Yes, Paul wrote about marriage but he hardly set up a parachurch organization, Focus on the Family. And Paul and Peter talked a lot about submitting to those in authority (and to the surrounding social order); that hardly made them transformational and hardly allowed for readers to spot where those apostles paying honor to — wait for it — Nero were hoping for a new Christian social order. A string of words that have a certain register in Sociology 101 hardly makes the New Testament a playbook for a Social Gospel.

For some reason, though (maybe it’s a Dutch thing), Matt doesn’t put David VanDrunen in Plato’s cave with Scott Clark and me. I don’t have any idea why (though I have a few hunches) because VanDrunen could not be clearer about the spirituality of the church and the New Testament’s silence about building a just, moral, and spiritually transformed society (thanks to Zrim for doing the typing):

The Lord Jesus Christ did not come to raise up followers who would transform the cultures of this world. Christ came as the Last Adam to achieve the original goal of the First Adam under the covenant of works: the new heaven and new earth. By his perfect obedience, death, resurrection, and ascension Christ has succeeded. By virtue of his achievement Christians, by faith, share in his verdict of justification, his heavenly citizenship, and his everlasting inheritance. Redemption does not put Christians back on track to accomplish the original goal of the First Adam through their own cultural work—Christ has already done that on their behalf perfectly and finally. Misunderstanding this point is perhaps the fatal flaw of neo-Calvinism. Until the day when Christ returns he has ordained that his people be pilgrims in this world and be gathered together in the church.

It would be difficult to overemphasize the importance of the fact that the church was the only institution that the Lord Jesus established in this world during his earthly ministry. Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God; that is, the new creation, the original goal of the human race under the covenant of works. Yet if we scour the Gospels we find but one institution that Jesus associates with the kingdom and but one to which Jesus points to find the power and the ethic of the kingdom at work here and now. Jesus did not establish the family or civil government, but simply affirmed their legitimacy. He did not lay out plans for kingdom businesses. Families, governments, and businesses already existed under God’s providential rule and were common in the cultures of this world long before the kingdom was announced. Jesus established his church. Unlike the cultural institutions of this world, Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church alone. He entrusted the keys of the kingdom of heaven to the church alone. He commissioned disciplinary procedures reflecting the ethic of the Sermon on the Mount for the church alone. He promised, to the church alone, that where two or three are gathered in his name he himself will be there among them.

Christ came, in other words, not to transform the cultures of this world but to win the kingdom of God, the new creation, which will be cataclysmically revealed out of heaven on the last day, and to establish the church, for the time being, as a counter-cultural institution that operates not according to the cultures of this world but in anticipation of the life of the age-to-come. The church has its own doctrine, its own worship, its own government, its own discipline, its own ministry of mercy, and its own strange ethic of non-violence and forgiveness that defies the wisdom of this world. Jesus and his apostles did exert great effort to shape a culture: the church’s culture. The New Testament makes clear, of course, that Christians must live and work among the cultures of this world, and should be just, honest, loving, and industrious as they do so. But the only culture-shaping task in which the New Testament shows any serious interest is the formation of the church. In light of such considerations I suggest that the only Christian culture—in the profoundest sense of the term—is found in the ministry and fellowship of true churches of Christ operating according to the teaching of Scripture alone.

I wonder if that also sounds neo-Platonic.

To correct Matt, 2kers, even the unhelpful ones, do think the gospel is social. The gospel society is the church, which may explain why some of us are active in our communions and congregations. Maybe Matt did not mean to discount that. But it sure does seem that the church trumps society even for the Westminster Divines who were thinking about the place of Christianity in a society torn apart by civil war:

The visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation. (25.2)

The church is social and proclaims the gospel. Society is not the church and it does not proclaim the gospel. (I’m sure there’s a logical fallacy in there somewhere.)

Wire View (not W-w)

In addition to listening to NPR’s reports on the Confederate Flag controversy, we also listened to the Diane Rehm show for part of the drive across Ohio. Her guest on Monday was Evan Thomas, the author of the new biography of Richard M. Nixon. This was a great interview and sounds like a brilliant book. The reason is that Thomas doesn’t flinch from Nixon’s despicable side. But he also finds Nixon to be a fascinating and a remarkable political figure. In which case, Nixon’s wickedness doesn’t put Thomas off. In fact, it’s the mix of bad and good that makes Nixon such an intriguing character. In other words, Thomas is not too good for this world.

Of course, the mix of bad and good is also what makes The Wire arguably the best motion-picture production ever made. Every character is honorable and selfish, commendable and despicable. That mix is what is characteristic of human existence. And I would also argue that it even characterizes the lives of saints; I don’t say this as an excuse for Christians to do evil; I say it to prevent saints from pride. (And let me be clear that I don’t recommend The Wire to all people; if you have trouble with nudity and crudity — you may want to lay off Shakespeare, opera, and the Bible — stay away from The Wire.)

This is a way to raise questions about Matt Tuininga’s piece (where comments are closed) about the forgiveness offered to Dylann Roof by the families of his victims. I am not sure why anyone would feel compelled to comment on those tragic deaths. Unless one of us has insight into Roof’s character or the African Methodist Episcopal Church or black Protestantism, it seems to me that white Reformed Protestants should simply pass by and let others do the conversing. But Matt did not make that call:

These brave Christian men and women of Charleston are enacting Jesus’ life and death in the most breathtaking way. Pray for them. Learn from them. This is the Gospel in action. This is Christian ethics in its purest form.

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 16:24-25)

For one thing, I’m not sure that the gospel and ethics should be so closely identified. I believe the gospel is about what God does in Christ for sinners and ethics has something to do with the way the redeemed respond to God’s grace in their lives by following God’s law. So granting forgiveness to Roof is analogous to what God does in the gospel, but taking up the cross and losing our life is a form of what we do. Which is it? Forgiveness or ethics?

For another, I’m not sure that Matt can make a case that the self-denial taught by Christ should take the form of the forgiveness granted by the AME families. I can well imagine a Christian not granting forgiveness (especially if not requested) and arguing that the lex talionis still applies — an eye for an eye, a life for a life. That rule doesn’t give Christians permission to practice vigilante justice. But it does allow a believer to hope that the criminal justice system will convict and punish a murderer. That’s not vindictive if God himself is going to judge all people by their works on judgment day.

And so I wonder if Matt had a better sense of the conflicted nature of human existence — the Wire View — maybe he would have been less prone to tidy up this tragedy with such a happy ending. This is an event with repercussions yet to come and it seems to be very dangerous to take away from it reassurances about how good Christians are (not to mention no consideration of differences between Calvinists and Wesleyans about sanctification, though, perhaps, this is not the time to bring those up).

Humbly Separate Church and State In the Name of Christ (of course)

Since I don’t listen to State of the Republic Union speeches, I’m not about to spend much time on what presidents say at National Prayer Breakfasts. (Why can’t it be National Word Breakfast? Why is it a monologue of Americans speaking to God and not the other way around?) But given the attention that President Obama’s remarks have received, I figured I’d try to discern what all the fuss is about. (More to come on the current efforts to rehabilitate the Crusades as a defensive war.)

The president thinks we have three ways to keep religion from being used as a “weapon” — humility, the separation of church and state, and the Golden Rule. It sounds nice in a “have a nice day” sort of way but it also sounds like what I’d expect to hear at a forum ready made for civil religion. Here’s the thing. If you want the separation of church and state, why have a National Prayer Breakfast? But someone like my mother might ask — what harm can a little prayer do? Has anyone heard of blasphemy? Might it be a tad blasphemous to invoke a generic god for all believers in the land? Would the first Christians have participated in such syncretism? So why do today’s “conservative” Christians (Protestant and Roman Catholic) so easily fall for this stuff? Maybe for the same reason that they let Jesus’ words, turned into John Winthrop’s — city on a hill — describe not their congregation or communion but their nation. I will give Michael Sean Winters credit on this one. He is disturbed by the mixing of religion and politics (even to the point of questioning whether Pope Francis should speak to Congress):

I confess I am very wary of the Pope’s addressing Congress: The optics seems all wrong, such a specifically political setting, and a powerful one too. Note to papal visit planners: The White House, the Capitol, the UN, even in its way the National Shrine, none of these really represent the peripheries where Pope Francis is most comfortable and where he has repeatedly said he wants the Church to be. I get creeped out when, at the Red Mass, they play the national anthem after the processional hymn but before the Mass begins in earnest. Of course, no politician would have the courage to simply refuse to go to the prayer breakfast. It would take a preacher-turned-politician, like Mike Huckabee, to pull that off, as it took a Nixon to go to China. I think we can all agree that a Huckabee presidency would be too high a price to pay for the breakfast to end. So, it will continue and presidents will continue to speak about things they should not speak about and say things about religion that are deeply cynical. There are worse things that happen in the world.

Aside from that last sentence, I think Winters is right. The worst thing in the world is to reverse the order of the Great (not pretty good) commandment and the Second that is like it. Upsetting your neighbor is one thing. But upsetting God?

For that reason, as much as I appreciate Matt Tuininga’s return to blogging (but why close comments?) and his push back against the conservative pundits who went batty over the president’s speech, I am not sure why Matt would be so positive about the “overall tone of the speech.” Matt included this excerpt as representative of that tone:

Our job is not to ask that God respond to our notion of truth — our job is to be true to Him, His word, and His commandments. And we should assume humbly that we’re confused and don’t always know what we’re doing and we’re staggering and stumbling towards Him, and have some humility in that process. And that means we have to speak up against those who would misuse His name to justify oppression, or violence, or hatred with that fierce certainty. No God condones terror. No grievance justifies the taking of innocent lives, or the oppression of those who are weaker or fewer in number….

If we are properly humble, if we drop to our knees on occasion, we will acknowledge that we never fully know God’s purpose. We can never fully fathom His amazing grace. “We see through a glass, darkly” — grappling with the expanse of His awesome love. But even with our limits, we can heed that which is required: To do justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.

I pray that we will. And as we journey together on this “march of living hope,” I pray that, in His name, we will run and not be weary, and walk and not be faint, and we’ll heed those words and “put on love.”

Au contraire. If our job is to be true to God, how do we do that while tolerating those who aren’t true to God? How could we ever be true to God in a way that suggests we don’t know what being true to God looks like? How can we say we don’t know God’s purpose when he has revealed it in his word, and how can we say that we don’t see his grace when he has revealed himself in his son, the word incarnate? And who exactly is this “we” when we have a separation of church and state and freedom of conscience that includes in this “we” Americans who do not believe in God (or who believe in the wrong god)?

What the president said reminds me yet again of the casuistry that Ishmael in Moby Dick used to rationalize blasphemy and idolatry:

I was a good Christian; born and bred in the bosom of the infallible Presbyterian Church. How then could I unite with this wild idolator in worshipping his piece of wood? But what is worship? thought I. Do you suppose now, Ishmael, that the magnanimous God of heaven and earth – pagans and all included – can possibly be jealous of an insignificant bit of black wood? Impossible! But what is worship? – to do the will of God – that is worship. And what is the will of God? – to do to my fellow man what I would have my fellow man to do to me – that is the will of God. Now, Queequeg is my fellow man. And what do I wish that this Queequeg would do to me? Why, unite with me in my particular Presbyterian form of worship. Consequently, I must then unite with him in his; ergo, I must turn idolator. So I kindled the shavings; helped prop up the innocent little idol; offered him burnt biscuit with Queequeg; salamed before him twice or thrice; kissed his nose; and that done, we undressed and went to bed, at peace with our own consciences and all the world.

The challenge, then, is not to hold to Christianity, Judaism, or Islam in a way that recognizes a common religious enterprise that unites us all. It is to find a form of diligent and serious Christianity (and more) that engages believers in a common civil enterprise with other believers and unbelievers. That is what two-kingdom theology and the spirituality of the church try to do. As valuable as that remedy may be, I for one don’t want to see the president talk about it at a National Prayer Breakfast. That would do to 2k what Constantine did to Christianity.